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If it’s your first time in Fairbanks, one stop you should make is the University of Alaska Museum of the North. If you live here, swing by when you need something to do on a rainy (or a 40 below) day. The museum gives perspective to the state, its vastness, and its natural and cultural diversity. Almost everything here focuses on Alaska and the ‘North’ (go figure). You will, at the very least, leave knowing a bit more about the state and its history when you go out exploring.
The architecture is top-notch. Designed by Joan Soranno, AIA, of HGA, with GDM, Inc., the building is beautiful and aesthetic, and the team has received numerous awards for this structure. Take a walk around the outside of the building! There are multiple sculptures and totem poles outside. The inside is just as lovely as the outside, with a warm and cozy feel.
This quaint museum is two floors and contains two main exhibit halls along with a few smaller ones. The two main exhibits are the “Rose Berry Alaska Art Gallery” and “Gallery of Alaska.” The former has a lot of traditional and modern Alaskan artwork, as well as a lot of photographs, including an Ansel Adams photo of Denali. The Gallery of Alaska is subdivided into regions of Alaska, containing historical artifacts. There is also an exhibit explaining the aurora and another small Hubble Space Telescope exhibit. The scientific and local paleontology exhibits are captivating.
A unique feature of this museum is the ‘Place Where You Go to Listen.’ Designed by John Luther Adams, a Grammy and Pulitzer Prize-winning composer, it’s kind of like a little meditation room with ambient light and sound that changes based on the Sun, the Moon, the aurora, and earthquakes, all from real-time monitoring.
There are some shows available for an additional small fee. I was able to see all the shows playing easily on the same day. I’m not sure if this is always the case. If you visit in the summer, definitely see the Dynamic Aurora show since you won’t get to see the lights in person. Don’t expect IMAX® quality sound and light; they’re just some fun short films.
At $9-$16 entrance fee per day, the museum won’t kill your wallet (although the gift shop could if you find the right things). The gift shop has a wide variety of Alaskan paraphernalia, including jewelry, masks, wall decorations, and a fantastic selection of books. However, the cafe doesn’t offer a whole lot, so I wouldn’t recommend going in hungry.
Kids may not find this museum to be particularly exciting. There isn’t anything specifically geared toward children, although there are a lot of bones and stuffed bears. If you ask at the front desk, there is an activity sheet available (recommended grades 4-6). It looks like a neat little scavenger hunt; I’m going to try it next time I’m there.